"We are like three corners of a triangle - we are connected but can never meet." These words were spoken by a close friend (name withheld to protect privacy). The three corners referred to here include my friend himself, his spouse and his son. While his son stayed in a different city, my friend was obviously not referring to the physical distance between them. In today's age of advanced communication, it would indeed be surprising if anyone is unable to connect, just because they live in different parts of the globe. Technology has not only helped us get re-acquainted with long-lost friends, it has also changed the way we define relationships. Many of us aspire to have thousands of friends and followers on social media. How many of these so called "friends" would be there to support us during a personal crisis, or when we need help to get a job or start a business?
Somehow my friend's words evoked a great degree of interest in me. For someone who loves mathematics, the thought of explaining relationships using a mathematical or algebraic model sounded fascinating. Let us consider the triangle example itself. If the sides of the triangle represent the distance between the three corners, is there any way by which the corners can meet or at least come close? Of course! If the lengths of all the three sides tend to zero, the corners would come close and eventually converge. If convergence happens, the triangle itself would become degenerate. But going by the laws of physics, moving the corners closer involves work. And this principle applies equally to relationships as well! Developing meaningful relationships involves a lot of work and commitment.
In one of the longest running studies, Harvard Medical School found a very strong association between happiness and close relationships like family, friends, colleagues and social circles. A personal connect tends to stimulate us mentally and emotionally, acting as automatic mood boosters. The study advices us to focus on positive relationships and let go of negative people from our lives, or at least reduce interactions with them as far as possible. It is therefore a no-brainer that people who are successful in relationships are also successful in life. The goal of meaningful relationships is the most sought after, and yet it remains elusive for many. So what does it take to sustain a happy and healthy relationship? According to a study conducted at the Touro College's School of Health Sciences, there are four key cornerstones for building good relationships.
Commitment: Personal commitment creates an emotional bonding which shapes the relationship. It makes people stay in a relationship because they want to, and not just out of necessity or a sense of responsibility. Even at work, a committed team is able to handle adversity more successfully than teams with low commitment.
Trust: It helps to bring stability to a relationship. Trust makes us feel secure and comfortable in presenting our thoughts and feelings openly and honestly, without worrying about rejection, ridicule or judgment.
Support: When we are supportive, we take ownership of each other's problems. This brings about better connection between us. A supportive relationship makes us feel in control of our problems and equips us to handle them in a better way. Treating each other with respect makes us feel good and further binds relationships.
Integrity: On its own, integrity will not ensure that a relationship will remain intact. However, lack of integrity can definitely break any relationship and is one of the greatest threats to relationship stability. Violation of integrity is the hardest to overcome and breaks down trust and commitment in relationships.
Meaningful relationships are healthy, caring and long lasting, and is one which all of us can't do without. It is with persons who support and encourage us, help us grow and are there for us when we need them. This is what we mean by being in the Continue stage, and is indicative of a mentor/mentee work relationship or life friends. So how does one go about developing meaningful relationships? Follow these tips:
Communicate effectively: The key to strong communication is to listen fully to the other person, seeking to understand what he or she is communicating (both verbally and non-verbally) and express yourself clearly and honestly. Chats, emails and Facebook comments are great every now and then, but there is nothing like having an actual conversation with someone.
Develop mutual respect: A relationship cannot thrive without respect for oneself and the other person. A golden rule to follow for showing respect - treat others the same way you would want them to treat you. Don't be someone else. If you can't trust yourself, how can others trust you?
Be honest and positive: Honesty is one of the pillars of trust, without which a relationship is bound to fail. Set clear expectations from both the sides - your own and the other person, admit mistakes and express how you honestly feel. Positive and honest emotions help us broaden and build relationships.
Ensure dependability: Dependability is the second pillar of trust and is a crucial show of support for the other person. Keep your promises and commitments and be present for the other person, both physically and mentally. In today's busy world, take the extra effort to create time for the relationship.
Pay it forward: You should want to give others something because you want to, not because you have to. Don't wait to be asked for help. If a friend, colleague or family member wants some help, jump in and offer your assistance before you are asked.
Resolve conflicts: Conflicts are inevitable in any relationship. What matters is how these differences are resolved. In many cases, it becomes a match of who can argue better. Try to focus on your feelings rather than attacking the other person. It is only when both sides are willing to let go of the desire to "win" that the argument can end.
Express empathy: Empathy is the ultimate sign of support for the other person. When you express empathy, you truly walk in their shoes and experience what they experience. Focus on truly understanding what the other person is feeling or going through, before trying to respond, ignore or fix it. One must learn not to always take things personally and be selfless every now and then, by understanding what the other person is going through.
Develop interdependence: Interdependence is stronger than co-dependence as it brings two people with strong foundation together to create a strong relationship. It is based on the concept that "the whole is greater than the sum of parts". Think win-win in each scenario and find ways by which both can benefit from each decision. Finding common interests is one of the best ways of developing meaningful relationships.
Define purpose: Two people may connect because of career prospects, coaching, mentoring, socializing or any other reason. The purpose helps to outline what is expected and appropriate of the relationship. Always evaluate why you have entered into a particular relationship and align with the other person the reason for continuing the relationship.
Be patient: It takes time to build and maintain a relationship. During that time you are going to need a lot of patience to cope with day to day frustrations. Lack of patience in handling the aggravations of life can disrupt the best of relationships.
While the above tips would help you build and grow meaningful relationships, there are certain pitfalls which can be detrimental to a relationship. Learn to identify and avoid these interpersonal pitfalls:
Having unrealistic expectations of yourself, the other person, or the relationship.
Coming too close too soon, physically or psychologically.
Being negative about self, the relationship or life.
Being a rescuer, a martyr, a savior or a "perfect" person.
Trying to change the other person to suit your needs.
Being too self-centered, judgmental or always "right".
Stockpiling strong feelings - anger, sadness - and then pouring them all out at once.
Expecting the other person to be a mind reader, a fixer or a rock of stability for you.
If you notice any of the above tendencies in yourself, try to change them at the earliest, even if it requires getting help from someone you trust.
Have you developed any meaningful relationships? The above qualities provide a starting point for understanding what it takes to have meaningful relationships. By working on each of these qualities, you can grow your relationships into the Continue stage and reap the benefits of meaningful relationships. If any of the qualities is lacking, you might find things more challenging. It might be worthwhile thinking about ways by which you can focus more on what is missing. If you think you might need help with developing relationship skills, you might like to try a Life Coach.